The Summit: Leave it to the Gods

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Only the five best climbers were chosen from our group to challenge the summit.  I must have been number six.  I missed the cut and was bitterly disappointed.  But, the summit climb is very rugged and dangerous.  Two days before some hikers were literally blown off a ridge top.  When Wyasa told me he had tried the summit, but had to turn back I didn’t feel so bad since he’s about ten times stronger than me.

So instead of getting killed, I spent the day at the hot springs.  Thank God for being Number 6.

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At the moment this photo was taken, I had this perfectly warm spring all to myself.  Minutes later I was joined by 25 villagers from central Lombok.   These villagers were Muslim and dirt poor.  They had brought some food, a few plates to share and a pot to boil their rice.  They were planning to catch fish at Anak Laut to supply the bulk of their food. They were ecstatic about their upcoming vacation.  Of course they were surprised to find a white guy occupying their spring.  But we talked and joked for an hour.

Drying fish

Drying fish

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In America I might have been ticked off that 25 strangers invaded my space. But after living in Bali for 2 years, I’m used to the lack of privacy. It was fun in camp.  Everywhere I went people invited into their tents for coffee or a cigarette.  All these conversations started out exactly the same.  For the first five minutes it was all about exchanging information: Where did I live? Where was my wife?  How many kids?  Where was my wife?  When was I returning to Bali?  Where was my wife?  Did I like Lombok?  Where was my wife.  This is all pretty normal.  Indonesians want some basic information on where to place you.  Read Indonesia, Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani to get some funny insight on this.

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But even though my language skills are still weak, I could have some conversations.  I talked to a young architect about the techniques he uses to prevent his buildings from falling down in an earthquake.  I asked everyone if they liked Indonesia’s dynamic new president, Jokowi.  Most did not.  80% of Lombok voted for Jokowi’s opponent.  I talked to a man who holds down two jobs as a teacher and hotel employee, and wants to learn the Hindu slokas (chants).  I talked to a young couple who brought their eight-year old daughter with them on the trek.  They are middle class, but still stressed about the basic economic needs of putting food on the table and sending their daughter to school.

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Our final ceremony involved two fun events.  First, a group of brave young men jumped into the chilly lake.  They retrieved two stoppered bottles that had been placed in the lake the previous day.  The mystery would be to see if these bottles had filled with water. Miraculously, as they do every year, the bottles returned filled with holy water (tirta).  We cheered.

Counting the coin and jewelry offerings

Counting the coin and jewelry offerings

The second ritual involved collecting coins and jewelry amounting to several hundred dollars which would be given to the Gods of the lake as an offering.  We cheered again as another group of brave men swam out to give this gift.

Then we went to bed early for a 3am wake up call.  4am prayers…and 5am hitting the road.

The way out started with a two kilometer climb to the ridge top.  Wyasa and I started early, and avoided the traffic jams.  At the top one of the old guys yelled down: Stop Smoking and Keep Walking.  That’s because almost all of the young men would walk like rabbits for about five minutes and then stop for a cigarette break.  They are “Smoking Bunnies”, he told me.

Just five minutes before the end, the rain started.  We had achieved one of our key goals.  Our prayers had been answered.  It rained all the way back to Mataram, and I’m not sure if the rain has stopped since.  These guys really know what they are doing.  Places suffering drought, like California, might want to consult them.

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We hopped back on the bus.  Smoked a couple of clove cigarettes. And then the young guys dropped off to sleep sprawling across each other.  They may be Smoking Rabbits, but at that moment they reminded me a lot of puppy dogs.

Our porter Made

Our porter Made

Father and son porter team who also helped us.

Father and son porter team who also helped us.

Wyasa

Wyasa

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Fog rolling  into the lake

Fog rolling into the lake

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Mass Cremation in Bali

Balinese people aren’t stressed about much, but the one thing that can create overwhelming tension is the inability to afford to cremate your parents and family.  In the past, cremations have financially ruined poor and middle class families alike who by tradition must provide a suitable cremation ceremony for their loved ones which can cost thousands of dollars.  When you are a farmer earning hundreds of dollars a year…it could have meant selling your land or not putting your kids in school.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan's father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan’s father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

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Fortunately, many Balinese villages have adopted the practice of mass cremations where all of the people who die over a five-year or so period are cremated at the same time.  This mass cremation helps because it allows richer families to subsidize poor ones and permits every family to perform their sacred obligations to their loved ones.

We were invited by our friend Darmawan to the village of Tangkas in the Klungkung Regency to participate in its mass cremation of 95 villagers who had died over the past five years.

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

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It was a very long but fascinating day.  Darmawan’s family had lost a young nephew who had died from drinking too much Arrak (palm brandy) five years ago.  His body had been buried for the past five years.  His remains were dug up just before the ceremony and placed in a white cloth for the ceremony.

offerings around the sarcophagus

offerings around the sarcophagus

Cremation represents two important actions. First, it is a physical act in which the five elements of the universe contained in a human body are released by cremation to return to the earth.

The fire begins

The fire begins

More importantly, cremation releases a person’s soul from his body to be returned to the circle of life and death (reincarnation) or to be released from the cycle by seeing the face of God (moksha).  In Balinese tradition, the ritual mechanism for doing this is through a water blessing.  Every person who was cremated was accompanied throughout the cremation ceremony by a woman of his family.

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In our friend’s case this was Puspa, Darmawan’s wife.  She rose at 8am to prepare the water offering from holy water provided by the priest. Just before the cremation, the priest sprinkled holy water from her offering onto the body of her nephew.  After the embers died down at 10pm that night, she carried the ashes to the river for the soul’s final journey back to the spirit world.

Good Whips Evil in Bali Holiday Bash

Panjor at Ashram Gandhi Puri

Panjor at Ashram Gandhi Puri

Twice a year the Balinese celebrate the ten-day Galungan holiday which symbolizes the fight between good and evil….And every six months evil gets its butt kicked.

One of the forces that helps defeat evil during Galungan is the strength of Balinese families. Not only can all the living family members be called upon to help, but conveniently, Galungan is a time when all the ancestors happen to be visiting so they too can summoned as spiritual reinforcements.

Ancestors Temple

Ancestors Temple

And finally, Galungan is a family holiday where mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and kids gather to swap the latest family gossip, catch up on family news and pray together.

Kadek and Wenni

Kadek and Wenni

Ashram men

Ashram men

Ririn and Ogek

Ririn and Ogek

Of course, the drama of evil versus good, ancestor worship and family reunion that make up Galungan are celebrated with ritual and ceremony. We were part of all this on the last day of Galungan when Indra invited us to his family temple for their Galungan ceremony.

Our Pandita is Indra's 82 year-old uncle, a former boxer.

Our Pandita is Indra’s 82 year-old uncle, a former boxer.

Neutralizing the evil spirits with arak and a feast

Neutralizing the evil spirits with arak and a feast

The family temple is located on a mountain top which requiring a steep 30-minute hike through groves of coconut, clove and nutmeg trees. It features a large temple for the ancestors and numerous other smaller temples for the other Gods watching over the family members. The family is part of the Arya Kaloping clan which over the past several hundred years has spread out across Bali and the world. But wherever a family members is located, he or she will always have this place to call home. It’s a very powerful way to keep grounded especially in today’s mobile society.

Offerings

Offerings

Bayu helping to get ready

Bayu helping to get ready

Temple at snset

Temple at sunset

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The family welcomed us as their own to the ceremony. It began by neutralizing the evil gods by giving them some arak (palm whiskey) and stuffing them with food such as eggs and coconut. How else would you deal with evil?

After temporarily subduing evil, the ceremony could move on to the traditional Balinese prayers, water purification ceremony and honoring the ancestors.

After the ceremony we ate a communal dinner of rice, chicken and a country sambal (spicy sauce) that made me sweat even in the cool evening air…

Nengah loses at dominoes and wears a banana on his ear

Nengah loses at dominoes and wears a banana on his ear

And finally we spent the night visiting and then fell asleep under the stars.

Crescent moon above the temple

Crescent moon above the temple

Final Score: Good: 10   Evil: 0….but a rematch has been scheduled in six months.

Canti,

Pak Dave

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Bali

 

Triple XXX Bali Rock Band

Triple XXX Bali Rock Band

As usual, I was confused about our destination.  I thought we were going to a farmer’s market where we would see our friend Darmawan.  Instead I attended my first Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert in Bali which turned out to be a very entertaining, but culturally dissonant evening with the ashram teenagers.

We actually did see Darmawan.  His organic farm was selling papaya, honey, eggs and rice at a booth at the Klungkung Expo.  Downtown Klungkung was closed down for the three-day event which celebrated the 106th anniversary of the Klungkung Puputan (ritual march to the death) against the Dutch colonial army.

Klungkung Puputan

Klungkung Puputan

The puputan was triggered by a Balinese revolt against a Dutch attempt to impose an opium monopoly.  Klungkung was the last kingdom holding out against the Dutch invaders. Hopelessly outnumbered and weaponed only with bamboo spears, the King of Klungkung led 200 members of his family and court in a puputan into the face of the Dutch guns. All of the group were either killed or committed ritual suicide.

Apparently, not all of the Balinese kings chose the honorable ritual of puputan, but instead made nice with the Dutch for which they were rewarded with wealth and position.  There’s still some hostility because of it, and the people of Klungkung continue to be proud of their heritage of refusing to knuckle under to the invaders.

Klungkung King who Led the Puputan

Klungkung King who Led the Puputan

Why celebrate a defeat and a very bloody one at that?  I can’t claim to fully understand it, but the puputan is celebrated because it represents the intense pride and honor the Balinese people feel about their culture even in the face of continuing external challenges from modern values and an economic system.

It’s been interesting to see a similar struggle that Balinese young people have of working a job in a hotel in the city, but being required to take off during the week to ride home to your village for ceremonies. It’s tiring and not so great for your career, but so far it seems (and there’s an intense debate about this here) culture and Balinese family values are winning.

Which brings me to the rock concert, the very definition of a western invasion. The featured band was Triple X, a group of local young men from Klungkung that had made it big in the Balinese rock scene.  Who knew there was a Balinese rock scene?

Dinner at the Klungkung Night Market

Dinner at the Klungkung Night Market

Being an old fart, I was all for going home after dinner.  But the ashram teenagers forced me to attend the concert.  Triple X brilliantly danced between the two worlds of western values and traditional Balinese culture that our ashram members…all of Bali…traverses in their daily lives.

Triple X combined loud electric guitar riffs, raucous acoustics, and rock star stage theater with lyrics and video that celebrated puputan in a way that really spoke to this Balinese crowd which two weeks before was dressed in sarongs and celebrating Ogoh-Ogoh (See the Blog Shh…It’s Nyepi)  I particularly liked the way Triple X satirized the line every tourist hears, “Hello Mister, Welcome to Bali” with humor and hipness.

But the strangest thing of all was what happened after Triple X would end a loud, raucous rock song…Nearly complete silence.  Very little applause, no screams of pleasure.  It was cultural dissonance at its very best.

Canti and Rock On!

 

Easter In Bali…Selamat Paskah

You might think it would have been awkward celebrating Easter at a Gandhian Ashram on the Hindu island of Bali in the most populous Muslim country in the world.  But it turned out to be one of the most meaningful Easter’s we’ve ever experienced.

Our leader, Indra Udayana, welcomed our teaching the kids some of the fun

Coloring Easter Eggs

Coloring Easter Eggs

and serious traditions of Easter.  The day before we colored Easter eggs which the kids took to a whole new level with their awesome drawing ability.

 

Easter morning began with our regular prayers at 5am, and then an enthusiastic Easter Egg hunt.

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Drawing Talent Is Just in the  Balinese Blood

Drawing Talent Is Just in the Balinese Blood

Afterwards, we attended Easter Service at Saint Sisillya Catholic Church.  We

At St. Sisillya Catholic Church with Indra, ashram members Kadek and Komang and choir members.

At St. Sisillya Catholic Church with Indra, ashram members Kadek and Komang and choir members.

were warmly welcomed by the Pastor and its 200 members.  Their new church just recently opened, and is beautifully decorated with familiar Christian art work some of which is rendered in traditional Balinese painting methods.

Christ on the Cross rendered in Kamasan village art style

Christ on the Cross rendered in Kamasan village art style

Last Supper

Last Supper

After evening prayers, we gathered in the garden around a statue of Mother Mary.  Felicity and our friend Amma from Brisbane, Australia shared some thoughts about the meaning of Easter with our Ashram members.  We recited the Our Father prayer, and finished by demolishing a bowl full of chocolate Easter eggs.  There were a few unsettled stomachs this morning.

Felicity and Amma talking about Easter at ashram's Mother Mary statue

Felicity and Amma talking about Easter at ashram’s Mother Mary statue

One of the things I love most about following the Gandhian path is how it treats all religions. One of the eleven principles we live by at Ashram Gandhi Puri is Sarva Dharma Samanatva which means respect for all religions.  In fact, Gandhi carried a copy of the Sermon of the Mount with him along with the Hindu text Bhagavad Gite and the Koran.  Even though Hindu mantras are the core of our daily prayers, we also say the Our Father prayer and some of the important Muslim prayers.  I’ve also attended Ramadan celebrations where the ashram members have sung these Muslim hymns. I also love living in Indonesia because of its strong respect for the diversity of religious worship.  With some exceptions, there is a lot of tolerance for the country’s recognized religions.  The Catholic priest at St. Sisillya told me that his church has never faced a challenge from the larger Hindu or Muslim religions, and in fact received support from the government to build the new church.

at Ramadan last year

at Ramadan last year

Chatting up the girls last year at Ramadan

Chatting up the girls last year at Ramadan

We hope your Easter and Passover Celebrations were great. Selamat Paskah (Happy Easter), Salaam, Shalom, Canti